Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Lakeland 100/50 Recce Weekend - The Ultra-Friendly Ultra-Trail Community


Tonight I would like to report on the Lakeland 100/50 Recce Weekend that I attended last weekend.  The recce weekend was put on by the Lakeland 100/50 organisers Marc and Terry, along with their hard working band of helpers.  It consisted of a 28 mile run on the Saturday, and a 16mile run on the Sunday.  But what was probably the most demanding in terms of endurance was the 95 minute presentation by 'Yours Truely' - UltraStu's views on The Final Five Weeks of Preparation!  Yes, I was meant to talk for one hour, but somehow got my pace judgement totally wrong, started far too slowly, and keep on going at a slow pace, so went well over my predicted finishing time!!!   Well at least it is better to go over time during a talk than during a race!

So firstly, many apologies to the 50 - 60 runners present at the Ambleside Village Hall on Saturday evening.  After a tough 28 mile run, it was great to see that everyone's preparation must be going well as no one fell asleep, much more than I can say for my University students that attend my biomechanics lectures!!!

The recce weekend started as we boarded the two coaches to take us from Ambleside to Pooley Bridge, which is 2 miles into leg 9 of the 100, or 6 miles into leg 1 of the 50.  As we alight the bus, there is still the queues for the toilets, just like for a race, but there isn't the GO of a race start.  So gradually over probably a ten minute period around 90 runners start their journey back to Ambleside, running off in their own time typically in small groups of 5 - 10 runners.  As an indication of what was going to occur during the whole weekend I was busy talking to other runners, so was therefore one of the last runners to head off in a small group.  As we climbed up the first rise, myself and another runner Barry, who I had got talking to, slowly moved ahead of the group.  We found we were wanting to run at an identical pace, so as it ended up, we ran together, chatting non-stop for the whole 28 miles!

The recce run first covered the remaining 5.19 miles of leg 9, which took Barry and I 43 minutes and 5 seconds to complete, not that it was a race!  I wore my Garmin GPS watch during the weekend, so apart from where I forgot to start the watch until around 5 minutes after leaving Kentmere on leg 12, the GPS files which can be found on Garmin Connect all show the correct race route, (apart from a slight detour along the road at Skelwith Bridge Hotel, a new change to the 2011 route).  Click http://connect.garmin.com/activity/95173720 for the leg 9 file, and then click franstu near the top left of the page to access the other legs.

As we departed Howtown I remembered back to the race last year, and specifically that leg 10 was a real struggle for me.  Not only did it seem to take forever to reach the highest point of the race route at around 665 metres, but once I had finally reached the top I couldn't find the track across the top and then down to the footbridge near Haweswater.  Well it was totally different last weekend.  Before we knew it we had reached the top, then with the aid of a GPS device of a fellow runner with the race route programmed in, we were able to follow the exact path down to the footbridge.  It definitely is heaps quicker sticking to the path.  Although I am not running the Lakeland 100 this year, however, with the intention to do it again in 2012 (I presume on the night of the Olympic Opening Ceremony), finally knowing the correct path to take on this leg, the only part of the course I didn't exactly know, made the long trip from Brighton up for the recce weekend more than worthwhile.  Upon reaching the track alongside Haweswater, whether it was a result of the satisfaction of now knowing the way, or maybe in response to discovering that I would be racing against Barry in two weeks time at the IAU World Trail Challenge over in Connemara, Ireland.  Whatever the reason, the pace significantly picked up for the 4.5km until the end of the leg at Mardale Head.  During the 2010 race, the leg took me 2 hours 52 minutes, running chatting with Barry on Saturday only took us 1 hour 45 minutes, quite a difference in pace!

After a bit of flapjack and cake, the two of us continued on our way.  During legs 9 and 10 we had caught and passed quite a few runners, so as we started leg 11 we could not see any runners in front of us, however, Terry at the checkpoint informed us that around five or so runners had already passed through.  Not that we were racing or anything, but the idea that there were some runners 'to catch' I think briefly crossed both of our minds.  So the two of us kept the pace reasonably steady, and as we were descending down to the Kentmere checkpoint we caught up to some runners and then came across a few more at the checkpoint,enjoying some more cake and drink provided by the organisers.  Just as we arrived, the group of runners at the checkpoint must have been talking about 'beginning to struggle', so as we arrived, I was greeted with a "Here is the man to ask about keeping positive!".  They had read a few of my posts, so there was some good banter about positivity, especially as the rain had just got a bit heavier after only being a light drizzle and even clear on occasions earlier.

We all left the checkpoint together and walked steadily up the next climb.  Throughout the weekend I met so many different runners that I can't recall all of their names.  But there was a South African chap, (sorry I've forgotten your name!), who had completed Comrades Marathon ten times, very impressive.  Then there was David, who looked like he belonged in the scrum of a rugby pack, not your typical ultra runners build, but obviously extremely fit since it had taken Barry and I so long to catch them.  Also a chap called John, like the South African chap, quick with the wit regarding positivity!

By the time we reached the top of the climb, Barry was itching to get moving more quickly, so he substantially ups the pace, and the two of us start the long gentle descent but over rather rough terrain down to Troutbeck.  As I am not running the Lakeland 100 this July I was able to pass on to Barry all of my tips about running the race route.  Having run with him for over five hours, and hearing a little bit about his achievements, if you want to put some money on who will win this years race, then Barry could be a good bet!  Keeping in mind that I would be racing Barry in two weeks time, I thought this long descent would be a great opportunity to see what is descending was like over rough terrain.  So with a bit more focus, I set a reasonably quick pace, which resulted in Barry taking a small tumble.  Just to confirm his downhill ability, the pace increased even more, and I slowly moved away from him over the next five minutes.  As the track flattened out Barry rejoins me with a bit of friendly banter about 'attacking him while he was down"!  We continue chatting and running together and before we know it we are enjoying a coffee in the cafe above the final checkpoint for the day at the Lakes Runner Shop. 

It isn't long before we are joined by more runners, and there is a real buzz of positivity within the cafe.  Although we have all run a pretty demanding 28 miles, you wouldn't know it, as there is just so much energy and enthusiasm about.  I learn that the 'rugby player' is actually an ex-long distance kayaker.  Apparently he can kayak a marathon (albeit downriver) faster than he can run one!  Seeing the pace he ran over the weekend all I can say is that he must of been a pretty awesome kayaker!

Day two of the recce was equally as enjoyable as day one.  For the Sunday it was only legs 13, 14, 15 of the 100 or legs 5, 6, 7 of the 50.  I again start off slowly as we depart Ambleside on the journey to Coniston.  I find myself chatting to various runners and then after a wee while I find that I am just moving that little bit quicker than then, so I tended to leave them behind, before catching up with the next group ahead.  This is repeated a few times until I find myself running with two chaps (Steve and Jason?) who are going pretty well the same pace as me.  Halfway during leg 14, we are overtaken by a group of runners, (including the Rugby Lad and the Comrades King), who apparently had gone off course and had to wade across a river.  Whether they were running fast to get themselves warm, or maybe they were putting into practice, some of the messages from the previous night's talk, such as "re-evaluate your self perceptions, raise your expectations", whatever the reason they weren't hanging around.  After a slightly quicker than planned 28 miles with Barry on day one, I decided that the enjoyable chat I was currently in the middle of would take priority, so let them 'sprint' off into the distance!

For the remainder of the recce, the three of us run together, and although not as quick as the guys that overtook us, we weren't really taking our time.  The last leg of 3.43 miles, up and over the final climb from Tilberthwaite Car Park to the finish at the school in Coniston, only takes us 39 minute 25 seconds, again significantly faster than the 63 minutes it took me on race day last July!  In fact looking at the results from last year, this time for the final leg was only 49 seconds slower that the time set by the record breaking winner of the Lakeland 50 Andrew James!

To finish off the recce weekend there was again loads more chatting, and munching on even more cake provided by Marc, as the runners reach the finish at the school in Coniston.  Finally the sun comes out to top off an excellent weekend.  Although the weekend has consisted of two descent length runs over challenging terrain, combined with a lengthy 95 minute presentation on the Saturday night.  Even though I should be tired, I am full of positive energy, that I have received from the absolutely friendly and supportive ultra trail running community of the Lakeland 100/50, and before I know it, I am back home in East Sussex.

To finish of this post I would just like to thank all of the runners and the organisers who shared in the enjoyable weekend.  As I mentioned at the start of my talk, doing a presentation on my own material, was a bit daunting, as demonstrated by my heart rate being around 130 bpm at the start, higher than my Lakeland 100 race intensity for the last 7 legs!  However, after the 'high intensity' but 'poorly paced' start, it felt like I got into the 'rhythm of the event' and delivered a worthy performance!

At the conclusion of my presentation I put up the above 'Take Home' Points slide.  1.  Define what success means to you was about encouraging all runners to have a clear goal of what they want to achieve, with it possibly being a bit more specific and a bit more ambitious that simply finishing in 39hours and 59minutes.  2. Re-evaluate / adjust your self expectations was about taking on board that over the years of running, each and every one of us will have improved without probably noticing the change, and maybe now was a good time to re-evaluate one's self perceptions of oneself.  3. Final five weeks - carry out total preparation was about stressing the need to give serious thought to what possibly could happen during the race, and more importantly, to develop a positive strategy to deal with the, at times, challenging situations that may arise.  4. Surround / immerse yourself with positivity was about the importance of positivity on performance, and how one can gain great benefits in receiving it from family, friends, fellow runners, and most importantly from within.

To sign off, the final few words from the Take Home Points slide seems appropriate:  "During the Lakeland 100/50 weekend in July, enjoy the total experience, enjoy the journey, and live fully every moment.", Stuart Mills 2011.

To all of the Lakeland 100/50 runners out there, and to all other ultra trail runners, may your TOTAL preparations leading up to your next race go well and result in a successful performance.


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Northants Ultra 35 Miles Race Report - Factors That Affect Performance


Yes a few days late, but finally time to write last weekend's Northants Ultra 35 Mile race report.  As with most of my race reports, it may well take an ultra effort to get to the end!

The Northants Ultra was the seventh race of the 2011 Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship.  It was the third running of the event, but the first time I had run it.  With the event taking place in Northamptonshire, it was not so far to travel as usual, so my wife Frances and two boys Robert and Chris decided that they would come and cheer me on.  They don't often watch me race, having only watched me race seven times over the last three years.  What is significant though, is that for the seven previous races they have watched me, I have won them all except a 22nd place at Ultra Trail Mont Blanc.  So them coming to cheer me on was a significant factor towards my 'increased positivity' leading up to the race.

Following my wee bit disappointing run at the Highland Fling five weeks earlier, the physical training had gone well and I was really looking forward to having a strong run at the Northants Ultra.  Although  I am well aware that physical fitness does not change within a few weeks, what can change very quickly is 'mental fitness', or I prefer to use the terms like self belief, or self expectations, or simply self confidence!  The difference in five weeks in my self expectations was quite amazing.  Although I tried to convince myself that all was fine for the Highland Fling, that I was back on track after my skiing crash, deep down the self belief just wasn't there, and that was clearly evident in how I ran at the Highland Fling. 

It is quite easy to state that ultra trail race performance is largely determined by one's self expectations, and one's self belief in that they will respond positively to what they will encounter during an ultra trail race. HOWEVER, it is a different matter in ensuring one has these high self expectations.  I guess it gets down to having some evidence to confirm that your high self expectations are realistic and not just a 'want' or a dream!  So anyway, part of this evidence for me was due to the good patch of physical training over the previous 4 -5 weeks, but also, and probably more importantly, was the news that I had been selected to represent Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the upcoming IAU World Trail Challenge in Connemara, Ireland.  Now if that significant bit of news wasn't going to raise my self expectations, I guess nothing was!!!

So come race day, I am relaxed chatting to a few runners I had met at previous races.  I had prepared well, spending quite some time looking at the race route map provided in advance by the race organisers and checking out previous year's race results and race reports.  I find carrying out this 'research' on a race that I haven't competed in before is extremely important as it gives me a greater understanding of what I may be able to expect to happen during the race, and therefore ensure that I respond positively to these as they occur.  The race record was 4 hours 45 minutes, based on  my 'research', I felt a time of 4 hours 17 minutes was possible.  I had decided that it would be back to 'Run as fast as you can, while you can!'  There would be none of this running beside other runners, and allowing myself to be dictated by their running pace.  Looking back now, it just does show how I just didn't have my usual self belief at the Highland Fling!

There are around 120 runners on the start line, which is directly in front of the quite impressive looking Lamport Hall.  we are sent on our way, and as to plan I blast off out into the front, which has been described within David Jelley's race report on the Runfurther website as "Stuart Mills had left Lamport like a man who has been told he has 15 minutes to run to the newsagent 5 miles away, to claim his million pound lottery win".

During the race I wear a Garmin GPS watch that records and stores my heart rate and mile spilt times.  It does beep each mile, but nowadays I try not to pay attention to it while racing.  The benefit I get is when I analyse and reflect upon my race performance in the days after the race.  The Garmin trace can be viewed on the Garmin Connect website http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90451001 So after around 4 miles of a mixture of undulating fields and a slightly downhill gravel/rock hard dirt track, I happen to hear a beep from my watch and glance down.  It felt as if I was running quite fast, I could sense no other runners near me (I try to make a conscious point not to turn around to see where they are, better to focus on my own pace not others!).  I then get a shock when the split time for the mile just run shows 6:55.  It definitely felt quicker than that!  You can now see why I nowadays don't look at the mile split times during the race.  I immediately start to think negative, as a 6:55 mile should definitely not feel that hard!  I quickly re-check the split time that stays displayed for around 5 seconds, I see that the split is 5:55 not 6:55, which is really pleasing as the pace didn't feel that quick.  Shortly after I reach the first checkpoint and I get another positive boost.  I have only been running for 25 minutes and I am already 4 minutes up on my schedule.  Yes, today was all going to plan, and even better!

Although feeling quite comfortable with the pace I am running at, I decide that I can ease off a bit and as my heart rate data later shows, for the next four miles the heart rate drops from around 172-173 bpm, down to 168-169 bpm.  Checkpoint two soon appears, I take on my second gel of the day, (being extra cautious due to the carbohydrate 'blip' I had at the Highland Fling), and I am still 4 minutes up on schedule. 

For the next nine miles the course is really quite spectacular, there is great countryside, there are great views as it's seem to be up quite high up as I run out of Naseby, so combined with the gentle down, blue sky, and bright sunshine, I am really enjoying the moment.  Looking at the heart rate data shows that during these nine miles I substantially eased off the pace.  It wasn't a conscious effort, but probably just due to being distracted by the scenery and pleasantness of the surroundings.

Checkpoint three at 16 miles is reached after 1 hour 52 minutes and I am now one minute down on schedule.  I have a brief chat to the friendly marshals, take on my third gel and get on my way.  Thinking I should really up the intensity a bit, so the heart rate goes up from around 155 - 157bpm up to 159-160bpm,  I begin to get a feeling that I have perhaps gone off course as I am having to take a rather jagged course around fields rather than a smooth line as shown on the map.  Stopping to check the map to see which way to go I am unable to locate my position on the map.  So I continue in a direction that I think is correct hoping to find a significant landmark so I can re-position myself back on the map.  I get to a country lane.  I have a real problem now, do I turn left or right?  There should be a footpath or bridleway to run up, but none in sight!  I look more closely at the map, I look at my surroundings, nothing to help me.  So after what seems forever, but probably less than a minute I decide to head left, I shortly come across a bridleway and re-inspect my map.  I then hear a shout from a runner coming up the road who shouts out, "Yes that is the way, follow the bridleway".  To say I got a bit of a shock would be an understatement!  Where the hell did he come from?

As I head off along the bridle path with this other runner only 50 metres behind, I decide it is a good time to take on some Cliff Bar, and jog until he catches me up.  I had to establish which one of the following was the correct case: (i) Has this runner maintained his same pace, that is slower than mine, but without me knowing it I have lost loads of time by going off course and trying to read the map, or (ii) Has this runner started off at a conservative pace and has then picked up his pace and is now running quicker than me, so he caught me due to this rather than me going significantly off course.  I was hoping that option (i) would be the answer, if it was option (ii), then my relaxing enjoyable run in the sunshine was going to immediately stop and I was going to have a real battle on my hands!  Not that I don't enjoy competitive battles during races, it was just that I had got used to cruising and enjoying the countryside.

So David Jelley catches me up. I haven't actually spoken to him before, but I do recognise him from previous races.  Phew, it is option (i), all is under control, no problems, I confirm with myself that I must have lost loads of time going off course.  Rather than picking up my pace and trying to drop him, due to the confidence in knowing that I have raced him and beaten him before, I decide why not run with him for a while, have a chat, before getting back to race intensity.  So that's what I do, I simply start chatting to him.  On occasions during races I have had the occasional sentence or two with other runners, but I usually keep the talking rather brief.  Some runners don't mind the conversation, others get rather upset.  Fortunately David was very receptive to having a chat.  So we start chatting.  I comment that he isn't even carrying a map, he explains that this is because he grew up in the area.  He is wearing a shirt and shorts with the words Jelleylegs on, so I ask him about this.  Jelleylegs is his running business up in Yorkshire, http://www.jelleylegs.co.uk/ where he guides runners around the scenic trails of Yorkshire, sharing his running and phsyio experiences to aid their enjoyment of running.

Well although it is meant to be a race, it seems that we are chatting for quite a while, probably though only around 10 - 15 minutes.  We run through Long Bucky together, which is really useful, as it saves me from having to read the notes on the map that guide you through the village.  As we head out along the road towards Great Brington, I start to get the feeling that David has had enough of chatting as he is finding the pace that little bit harder than me.  He then encourages me to go ahead and sort'of apologises for slowing me down.  Although I am more than happy to continue chatting, I decide that perhaps I should get back into race mode.  So I say 'seeya later' and speed of up the road.

Checkpoint four at 23 miles shortly arrives after 2 hours 45 minutes, and surprisingly I am still only one minute down on my schedule.  As I tend to start reasonably quick in ultra trail races, my planned race schedule progressively slows as the race progresses.  So even though it felt like I had slowed quite a bit whilst running alongside David, in fact I don't actually think the pace was much slower, it just felt heaps easier due to the positivity being shared between us.

I get near to the village of Harlestone and as I head back across the fields I have a wee bit of difficulty finding the footpath.  I eventually re-find it as I run across a golf course, but then I manage to veer off to the right down the side of a church.  Another stop for a close inspection of the map and I identify where I am, no problem, so I continue up a lane then briefly along a busy A road.  Then at the exact moment as I rejoin onto the race route, from behind the hedge and over the stile comes David.  Well if that isn't a clear message to continue our conversation, I don't know what could be clearer! So I spring back into full chatter, deciding that it is alot easier to let David to the navigating.

We therefore run together across the fields until we reach a short climb before checkpoint five at Teeton and I move ahead.  It isn't really a surprise this time at the checkpoint as I am now six minutes down on my schedule.  I take on my fifth and final gel for the day, chat to some more friendly marshals and have a brief rest while I wait for David.  We head off together, but shortly after there is another climb up to Creaton and I move ahead again. I decide to increase the intensity back to race pace for the remaining six miles.  The heart rate goes up from the rather casual 152-156 bpm back up to around 162 bpm. The route then crosses some more fields before rejoining onto the track we ran earlier that morning not far from the 4 mile mark.  Although I am back to running a reasonably solid pace, I begin to feel a little guilty with my rather half-hearted approach to the day's race.  I reflect and consider that chatting and taking it easy isn't what British International runners should be doing!  I decide that the only way to redeem myself is therefore to push it hard to the finish.  So time to challenge myself with some hard running for the last 3 miles.  The heart rate goes back up to 167-169 bpm and I happen to hear a beep from my watch and see a 6:53 mile split for mile number 35.  The pace slows quite a bit up the tough climb back to Lamport Hall, but the effort remains high as I cross the finish line, after covering 36.11 miles in a time of 4:20:37, only three minutes slower than my planned finish time of 4:17.

Around seven minutes later David Jelley finishes, and we re-continue our conversation. The atmosphere at the finish line is superb.  There are hot drinks and cake freely available, but what really makes it is the abundance of positive energy.  Even though it was a reasonably hot day, over an, at times, undulating course, the majority of runners after the initial few moments upon finishing, all seemed to be really buzzing.  The true spirit of ultra trail running was clearly evident!

So to summarise, the Northants Ultra 35 Mile was overall a really positive experience, over a great course, shared with friendly chatty runners, and with extremely good race organisation.  Thanks loads to organisers Steve, Guy and their team of helpers for putting on such an excellent event.  I sub-titled this post "Factors That Affect Performance" as I feel that the Northants Ultra illustrates that there are many, many factors that can influence one's ultra trail race performance; ranging from misreading a mile split time, getting lost and going off course, being hot and sunny, not remaining within the race focus, having the support from your family, the companionship of running together with other runners, and the self belief that one's preparation has been good.  All of these factors can affect race performance, but to put it simply, it is all about remaining positive, both leading up to the race and throughout the entire race. 

I think now is a good time to sign off; "Race preparation involves considering those factors that can affect your ultra trail running performance.  Recognise them, and prepare yourself to ensure that for you, they all result in a positive effect on your performance."  Stuart Mills 2011.

May you all have positive effects within your running.


Sunday, 5 June 2011

Northants Ultra 35 MIle - Shires and Spires - Quick Update


Just a quick update on today's race.  Well all went really well.  It was a great course, extremely well organised, perfect weather conditions, and loads of positive people to chat with at the finish.

I managed to come first in a new record time of 4 hours 20 minutes.  Twenty five minutes quicker that the previous course record that was held jointly by Andrew James in 2009 (recent Highland Fling winner), and Mark Shepherd in 2010.  So a very pleasing time.  Second was David Jelley in 4:27, with Jim Rogers third in 4:39.  The women's placings were 1st Phillipa Taylor 4:58, 2nd Jacqueline Palmer 5:12, and 3rd Kate Churchill 6:14.

Nice to earn myself 1000 points in the 2011 Runfurther Ultra Series.  Next race is in five weeks time, over in Ireland, the IAU World Trail Challenge!

To all of you that raced today, hopefully your event was as positive, rewarding and enjoyable as mine.

Hopefully full race report within the next few days.


Friday, 3 June 2011

IAU World Trail Challenge - British Selection


Yet another short post tonight, simply to share my pleasure and satisfaction in being selected to represent Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the IAU World Trail Challenge to be held in Connemara, Ireland, next month.

After 34 years since I started running in 1977, and after 20 years since I moved to the United Kingdom, I have finally achieved something, i.e. representing my country, that started out as a distant dream as a child, then developed into an ambition during my twenties and thirties, before being discounted as I approached and then reached my forties.  So for it to finally occur, after such a long journey of endurance sport, is quite a feeling!

I haven't got time tonight to expand on the selection and the excitement of the upcoming race in Ireland, but I think that maybe a wee post about a few of the aims and challenges over the years that I have experienced is due.  Hopefully next week sometime!

The full team was announced today on the UK Athletics Website The team consists of:

Andy James
Craig Stewart (Forfar)
Allen Smalls (Colchester)
Julian Rendall (Tonbridge)
Stuart Mills (Brighton & Hove)

Kate Jenkins (Hunter Bog Trotters)
Lucy Colquhoun (Carnethy)
Karen Rushton (South West Vets)
Adela Salt (Trentham)
Heather Foundling-Hawker (Honiton RC)

Details about the race are at the following link:http://www.runconnemara.com/live/
All the best with your aims and ambitions.